PEORIA, Ill., Dec. 20 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Hazardous conditions and unfavorable weather have combined to slow the efforts of more than 1,400 Ameren Illinois Utilities field personnel who are working to restore electrical service to Central Illinois customers without lights in the wake of yesterday's ice storm, and high winds forecasted for tonight and tomorrow may cause new outages.
Electrical service outages, which peaked at about 45,000 customers yesterday, have been reduced to about 8,100 customers. The Ameren Illinois Utilities anticipate the majority will have their service restored by midnight, but some customers in the Peoria, Bloomington and Macomb areas may not have service restored until tomorrow afternoon.
Ameren Illinois Utilities officials warn that in many areas power lines and trees are still coated with a heavy layer of ice. The threat of 30 mph winds with higher gusts has the potential to damage power lines and cause tree limbs to break and fall into power lines. In addition, the bitterly cold temperatures predicted through Tuesday mean that ice will not melt, while making working conditions more difficult.
The Ameren Illinois Utilities are again urging customers to exercise extreme caution when using portable generators. There has been at least one case in which the necessary generator safety steps were not followed, which resulted in electricity being feed back into Ameren Illinois Utilities power lines that had been de-energized. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths.
Customers planning to use a portable generator must first open the main breaker or remove the main fuses before connecting the generator to the electrical systems. Failure to do this could seriously injure utility crews working on outside power lines, and/or it could cause damage to a neighbor's property or the customer's own equipment. Customers should never use a portable generator indoors, including in a home, garage, basement, shed or partially-enclosed area -- even with ventilation because of the threat of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Ameren Illinois Utilities began preparing for this ice storm last week. In addition to placing personnel on alert, the Ameren Illinois Utilities Customer Contact Centers received additional staffing to deal with increased call volume. At the height of the storm, about 200 personnel were working at the four Customer Contact centers. On Friday, the Customer Contact Centers handled 26,869 customer calls as compared to a normal Friday volume for December of 8,500 calls.
The service restoration effort is being directed by the Ameren Illinois Emergency Operations Center in Decatur. Ameren Illinois Utilities field crews and support staff are working 16-hour shifts to restore service. Personnel will remain at the ready in the event of additional outages.
The Ameren Illinois Utilities also placed Storm Trailers to Peoria, Sunnyland and Chenoa. The Storm Trailers are mobile storerooms, stocked with the material field crews need to get the lights back on. The trailers can be moved to central staging sites to provide essential materials areas with the greatest damage.
The storm began to cause significant outages during yesterday's early morning hours. Service outages peaked at about 45,000 before noon. Field personnel from throughout the Ameren Illinois Utilities service territory and crews from electrical contractors have been making rapid progress despite adverse weather conditions.
"Safety is our priority every day of the year, but it takes on added significance when severe weather strikes," Prebil said. "The first safety rule is to stay away from downed power lines and always call us or '911' if you see downed lines," said Bill Prebil, Ameren Illinois Utilities vice president of Regional Operations. "Never go outside in the dark because you won't be able to see a downed power line that could still be energized and dangerous. Stay away from brush, shrubs and downed trees that may hide downed lines."
If you lose power, contact a neighbor to see if you are the only one without power. If you are the only one without service, check your panel box for a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. If any breakers are in the "off" position or if a fuse is blown, you should investigate the problem. If you are still without power, or if others in your neighborhood are experiencing a power outage, call your Ameren Illinois Utility at any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and always call as soon as possible to report a downed line or natural gas odor! The Ameren Illinois utility numbers are 888-672-5252 (AmerenCILCO), 888-789-2477 (AmerenCIPS) and 800-755-7000 (AmerenIP).
The Ameren Illinois utilities serve 1.2 million electric and more than 840,000 natural gas customers in a 43,700-square-mile area of Illinois.
For current information on the restoration effort, please visit www.illinoisoutage.com
SOURCE: Ameren Illinois Utilities